The Turkeypocalypse is just a mere two weeks away, and I’m already cringing. As a proud mom of a beautiful nonverbal eleven-year-girl on the autism spectrum, I’ve been there, done that, wrote the book about what it’s like during the holidays convening with our small circle of relatives and friends. Our daughter walks around with giant noise-blocking headphones, that some may assume she is rocking to Bad Bunny or Taylor Swift, but no, she is doing what I envy—blocking out noise—seemingly politely. So, at the Thanksgiving table, she does the same—blocking out the chatter and well-meaning (but as my dad would say, OMG!) bombardment of questions about her progress and very particular food preferences. Folks in the following, here’s my advice about what not to make the focus of the dinner table discourse about our special-needs children, and OMG!—any child with particular nuances. And please keep this in mind, this is not about sympathy—but empathy!
- Please don’t ask when do I think she will talk, or for other children, why they are fixated on when the pizza is arriving. My daughter eats like she is on the paleo diet, and loves vegetables and meat. Don’t ask why she is not eating the apple pie you lovingly prepared or is just licking the frosting off a cupcake. That’s just what she likes.
- When she has to go, she has to go! Sometimes it may be because she needs to go to the loo, and abruptly may detach from your embrace. Or she doesn’t like the attention and wants to retreat to a quieter space. When our children have to go, they have to go! It’s not personal.
- Though she has special needs, she can eat for herself, don’t try to feed her; and during the Lord’s prayer, she intrinsically knows to keep quiet, so please don’t shush her.
- Don’t ask about her progress. Just allow us to enjoy being in the company of family and friends. Parents are already stressed, we don’t need the extra reminders of what you perceive are children are lacking.
- Ha! As a family, we’re notoriously always late. Sometimes my daughter is having a meltdown or we are literally sitting on the staircase pleading her to “Let’s go.” It takes time and sensitivity to understand what she is feeling.
- This is a big one. My daughter does not understand why you can’t understand her. She isn’t being rude by walking away. She’s just frustrated that she can’t express herself. Please don’t ignore her. She sees and feels it.
- My daughter doesn’t like crowds, loud chattering; she prefers solitude. As parents, we wish we could break the ice wall when it comes to communication, so instead of judging or condemning, just be understanding.
- If our children suddenly get excited and start jumping around, please don’t yell and remind us to keep an eye on them. This is why I’m sometimes reluctant to take my daughter to holiday gatherings. Just like when we check our coats upon arrival, check your opinions.
- Please talk to our children; acknowledge them. In the case with my daughter, she understands EVERYTHING, so just be understanding. My daughter is deep as the ocean’s abyss. Just try to connect. Trust me, our children can teach you a thing or two about why verbosity is overrated.
- And the most important of all—Just love our children for who they are. They are different, albeit challenged, but beautiful in that they teach us the essence of unconditional love. It is Thanksgiving, so please keep the spirit by being thankful and accepting. Our children deserve a place where they are accepted for who they are. It’s not about turkey or pie; maybe it’s chips and pizza…whatever the meal, if it makes our children feel loved, then that’s Thanksgiving!
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